It is finally time to move our focus to Northern California, so now we can write about the Big Three.
Ahhh, the Big Three. These are the three winemakers that have had the biggest influence on our wine drinking over the last 2+ decades. Not only do they make great Zinfandel [kind of a requirement for this Zinfan] along with other wonderful reds that are in our wheelhouse [think Syrah, Petite Sirah, etc.] but they also make wonderful lighter style wines.
In addition, they are all founding members of the Historic Vineyard Society [insert website], an organization dedicated to preserving California’s old vineyards.
The Big Three are:
Mike Officer of Carlisle Winery and Vineyards
Tegan Passalacqua of Turley Wine Cellars and Sandlands
Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock
Mike and Kendall Officer’s first vintage from their Carlisle Winery www.carlislewinery.com was 1998. They both kept their day jobs for the next few years, but given the immediate accolades they received out of the starting gate for their wines produced from old-vine vineyards, focusing on Zinfandels and Rhones, demand for them to increase production was high. They eventually were able to devote themselves full-time to the winery and their family – both of their children now work at the winery. While we immediately became huge fans of their red wines, they also make three whites that are definitely on our go-to list:
Sonoma Mountain “Steiner Vineyard” Grüner Veltliner: Not too many wineries use this varietal in California.
Sonoma Valley “Compagni Portis” White Wine: a field blend of primarily Gewurztraminer, Trousseau Gris and Riesling from the Compagni Portis Vineyard. Sonoma County “The Derivative” White Wine: The 2018 is a blend of Semillon, Muscadelle, Columbard and Palomino.
While many people consider Turley Wine Cellars www.turleywinecellars.com to be a Paso Robles winery since they purchased the old Pesenti winery in 2000, they also have a facility in Amador County, having acquired the Karly property in 2012. More to the Northern California point, Turley’s headquarters is in St. Helena in the Napa Valley. Under the auspices of Director of Winemaking Tegan Passalacqua, Turley produces an amazing number of delicious Zinfandels from some of California’s best vineyards, along with some Petite Syrahs, Cinsaults and even some Cabernet Sauvignon. If you are looking for lighter wines, they make some great ones as well. For whites, the Sauvignon Blanc is a favorite of ours and The White Coat blend is always outstanding. And yes, Turley also makes a White Zinfandel; but please don’t expect it to be that silly sweet stuff.
Tegan and his wife Olivia also own Sandlands www.sandlandsvineyards.com , where they focus mainly on “forgotten classic California varieties, primarily grown in decomposed granite (sand), from regions and vineyards that have been farmed for many generations but have remained the outliers of California viticulture.” Sure, they do make some outstanding Chardonnay, but don’t miss their Lodi Chenin Blanc or Cinsault, Mataro and Carigane from Contra Costa County, even a Mission from Amador County, among others. The wines have an old-fashioned flair to them, including lower alcohol by modern California standards and are lip-smackingly delicious. Prices are really reasonable too, but you need to try to get on the mailing list!
Last but not least, Morgan Twain-Peterson founded Bedrock www.bedrockwineco.com
in 2007, but winemaking would seem to have always been in his blood. As the son of Joel Peterson who created Ravenswood and now owns Once And Future Wine, Morgan made his first wine when he was 5 years old – I think he made Pinot Noir just to annoy his Zinfandel-loving father. We were first drawn to the Bedrock Syrahs, Zinfandels and Heritage field blends, but we have found the whites to be equally as compelling. Morgan and his now partner-in-wine Chris Cottrell are doing amazing things with Sauvignon Blanc. And if you or anyone you know thinks that Rieslings are not for them, please give Bedrock’s a try; you will change your mind. Finally, the Ode to Lulu is one of our favorite pink wines every year.
Be aware that all of the Big Three reserve the bulk of their production for their mailing lists, so I highly recommend you sign up – or get on their waitlists.
As the weather starts heating up and Karen and I get to being fully vaccinated, we are looking forward to traveling to our favorite wine regions and tasting new varietals and vintages and reporting back. But in the meantime, you’ll probably see another article or two in this series.
Michael Perlis has been pursuing his passion for wine for more than 30 years. He has had the good fortune of having numerous mentors to show him the way, as well as a wonderful wife who encourages him and shares his interest. After a couple of decades of learning about wine, attending events, visiting wineries and vineyards, and tasting as much wine as he possibly could, he had the amazing luck to meet Eve Bushman. Now, as Contributing Editor for Eve’s Wine 101, he does his best to bring as much information as possible about wine to Eve’s Wine 101 faithful readers. Michael is also President of MCP Financial, which provides outsourced controller services. Michael can be contacted at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.